Seema Mustafa

kunanposhporaKUNAN POSHPORA:The room is full of women with haunted eyes, and grim faces. One sits down not knowing where to start, conscious of not raking up the traumatic past. Hesitantly one asks how they are, and if any government or any chief minister or any legislator spoken to them, held their hands, and offered real help.

“We do not want help, we want justice,” a middle aged woman bursts out. “We are not looking for charity, we want the men who did this to be arrested and for people to recognize what has happened to us,” she said almost hysterically.

And the story came pouring out. Twenty two years ago, on the night of February 23-24, 1991, the remote villages of Kunan and Poshpora and settled in for the night. It was 11p.m., bitterly cold, snowing outside. There was no electricity in the villages that were in complete darkness. Suddenly, men armed with guns burst into the little hutments, threatening to kill the terrorized villagers if they so much as resisted. They soon realized that it was the Indian Army, a “crackdown” with soldiers hunting for militants. The men from almost every house were taken away with the women screaming and crying for mercy.

But no one expected what followed. Troops, they said, returned and barged into the houses, molesting and raping the women. Sara (names changed) says that she thought it was only happening to her, and it was only later in the morning when the men returned that they realized that women across the two villages had been brutally raped and gang raped.

“We could not shout, there was no help, no light, it was all dark and just these men,” Parveen shuddered with the memories. A woman in her mid-40’s sitting in the corner of the room did not say a word, but wept quietly, inconsolably, all through. The memories do not go away, the women said, it is as if it all happened yesterday.

Many of them—ten, 15, more….had to have hysterectomies after the brutal rapes because of infection and injury. The physical scars are visible for all who care to see. These wounds have healed, but the mental agony remains. The women are in clear need of psychiatric counseling and help, as their lives seem to have come to a standstill since that terrible night, over two decades ago. They have not been able to move on, instead are finding it impossible to regain lost status in a society that now looks upon them as “rape victims” and at Kunan Poshpora as “rape villages.”

Akbar (all names changed), was 38 years old then. He along with the others were taken out into the snow, then to a building where they were tortured he says. He can never forget that night. His legs have been almost paralysed as a result. His eyes mist over as he speaks of the rollers run across his legs, of the electric shocks to his private parts and temples.

Ahmad too shares the agony as do many other men, with at least 40 of them gathering to recount those days and the intervening years through which they have suffered in silence. The men were allowed to return to the villages after 10a.m. the next morning. Nothing had prepared them for what they saw. The village was in complete shock, their women were lying unconscious , others were weeping, and it was then that the twin villages realized that there women folk too had not been spared by the soldiers.

The stigma of ‘rape’ attached itself to the village. A young handsome boy, Khalid said quietly that he along with many of his friends have had to drop out of school. Why? “The other children still taunt us, asking us whether our mothers or grandmothers or aunts were raped, we cannot accept this so most of us are not studying, or if we are then its in colleges far away from here,” he explained.

Ironically, there is no anger either. The usual sloganeering, and angry demands and gesticulations associated with the youth of Kashmir is missing. There is just a quiet helplessness, and a traumatic resignation that there will be no justice or closure for the victims of that fateful night.

For two days the villages wept in silence. Some said that the troops had cordoned them off as well. After two days, the villagers decided to go in search of justice and went to Kupwara to file a report. The District Magistrate S.M.Yasin visited the village and in his report recorded, “the armed forces behaved like violent beats.” The soldiers belonged to the 4th Rajputana Rifles, the fact being recorded for the first time in Yasin’s report.

Some of the separatist leaders visited the villages, but only once. Some did not. No one from the mainstream political parties bothered to find out what had happened, and how.

Almost a month later, on March 17,1991 a fact finding delegation led by then Chief Justice Mufti Bahauddin Farooqi interviewed 53 women who had been allegedly raped, and tried to determine why a police investigation into the incident had never taken place.

Farooqi is reported to have said at the time that he had “never seen a case in which normal investigative procedures were ignored as they were in this one.” The women of Kunan Poshpora said that the unmarried girls who had been raped were not allowed by the villagers to come forward and file police reports.

As Shakina, who too had to undergo a hysterectomy later said, “they had to get married after all, and we did not want our daughters to suffer.” The women said that till date they were finding it difficult to get good grooms for their women because of the stigma attached to the village. Samina, wiping tears from her eyes, said that the girls even today could marry only relatives or others from the villages. “No one from outside approaches us for marriage,” she said. “Life has been a living hell,” she added while the others around her nodded in silent assent.

The then Divisional Commissioner Wajahat Habibullah led a team of army, BSF and police officers to Kunan Poshpora at that time. He spoke to at least 41 women concluding that there was need for a more detailed and thorough enquiry. His recommendations were deleted in the report published by the state government then, a fact that he has spoken of recently again to journalists. He could not determine the extent of the violence, but he did realize that something sinister and terrible had happened to the innocent village folk.

The incident made it to the international media two months later when in April the New York Times reported the rape under the headline “India moves against Kashmir Rebels.” The villagers were besieged with reporters from across the world for a while, and by international human rights organizations, as well as civil society groups.

The men recount this saying , “we are fed up. They all came here asking us questions, making us relive that night over and over again. And they all disappeared with not even a leaf here stirring, despite the promises.” Musavir said that the villagers had decided not to meet any ‘outsiders’ now, and were quite used to living in silence, isolated and alone.

The media furore resulted in a Press Council of India mandated investigation with veteran journalists BG Verghese and K.Vikram Rao descending on the villages in army helicopters. This was perhaps the most damning report for the villagers as it gave a clean chit to the soldiers, and allowed the political establishments in both Srinagar and New Delhi to close the case without a trial of any kind.

The women continued to fight with health issues, with at least 15 hysterectomies because of the injuries and infection of the rape. At one point, the state government distributed some cash to the survivors, unaccounted and unspecified so that the government would not have to officially accept that the gang rapes had taken place. The men in Konan Poshpora pointed out that this was just to “silence us” in the hope that the story will remain buried.

In October 2011, the Jammu and Kashmir Human Rights Commission was approached by the villagers, at the instance of local civil rights activists. After hearing them the Commission ordered the reopening of the case, recommended an enquiry by a special investigation team along with monetary compensation. More recently, this year on June 18, a Kupwara district court has taken cognizance of a PIL and asked for “further investigation to unravel the identity of those who happen to be perpetrators.”

Some of the villagers were happy that at least some progress has been made, but most of them appeared depressed and pessimistic. “Let us see if anything happens, “ they said. Sara spoke for all when she said, “what can they do for us now, we have lost everything.” But even so the younger people of Kunan Poshpora want closure, they want the stigma of rape to be removed, and they firmly believe that this will only happen once the testimonies of the survivors are honoured and justice is done.

((This report appeared first in Frontline July 2013. This was based on the findings of a fact finding team of women, politicians and intellectuals that visited the two villages at the time. All names used in the copy have been changed.)

2005 Delhi serial blasts

Kuldeep Singh, the survivor of the 2005 Delhi serial blasts, at his home in Shadipur, in New Delhi.(Burhaan Kinu/HT PHOTO)

Three months into custody, the 2005 Delhi serial blasts suspect continued to protest his innocence; so Inspector MC Katoch of the Delhi Police Special Cell relented and wrote out a letter.

On the day of the attack, suspect Rafiq Shah claimed “he was present in the university and attended all his classes,” Katoch wrote in his letter, dated February 17 2006, to the Registrar of Kashmir University (KU).

Could the university share his attendance record?

But the University was shut for winter vacations.

A decade later, the case files reveal that the university did reply – not once, but twice; but the Special Cell suppressed information.

On October 29 2005, three bombs ripped through Delhi, killing 67 people and injuring 200. Three weeks later, the Cell arrested three Kashmiri men – Tariq Ahmad Dar, accused of planning the attack, Mohammad Fazili, and Rafiq Shah – a 22-year-old student of KU, accused of detonating a bomb in a bus.

Twelve years later, on Feb 16 2017, Shah and Fazili finally walked out of Delhi’s Tihar jail – acquitted of all charges; Dar was held guilty of links to a banned organisation but was acquitted of his role in the blasts.

In his judgment, Judge Reetesh Singh, expressed bewilderment as to why Katoch didn’t just “verify whether the claims of Mohmd. Rafiq Shah regarding him being in class on 29.10.2005 were correct or not.”

Shah’s case is illustrative of how rogue units like the Special Cell have compromised India’s counter-terror operations through ineptitude and gross malpractice.

“Cases like Shah’s are doubly dangerous,” said a former officer with the National Investigation Agency (NIA), “One, the real perpetrators are free. Two, you have alienated an entire population by putting the wrong man in jail.”

Between the attack on Parliament in 2001 and the Mumbai attacks of 2008, successive governments introduced anti-terror laws like the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2001 and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment (UAPA) in 2004.

“These laws made the police unaccountable for their actions, while the serious nature of the offences made judges wary of granting bail to those accused of terror offences,” said V. Suresh, lawyer and General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL).

At KU, where Shah was a student, the atmosphere was similarly febrile. The students’ union was banned in the 1990s for fostering supposedly “anti-India” sentiment, but students fostered their own forums to discuss politics.

“Rafiq played a role in reviving student activism in University,” said Bashir Ahmad Dar, Shah’s junior and now a lecturer in Srinagar, “I think he was on the radar because of his activism and his offering of Quranic lessons in his locality.”

“In Kashmir, if you are someone whom the agencies do not like, anything can be manufactured against you,” said Khurram Parvez, Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, describing a persistent atmosphere of diffused suspicion, “Some surveillance and profiling is always going on by the state. You feel naked in front of them.”

Police torture

On the day of the blasts, university records indicate Shah attended all four of his classes at the Shah-i-Hamdan Institute of Islamic Studies. Yet in November, the Special Cell picked him up and drove him to a police camp.

“We were tortured. We were kept blindfolded, our clothes were removed and we were beaten by wet towels,” Shah later testified in court, adding that he was sexually assaulted by the police, “We were filmed in the nude and a baby pig was made to walk over our nude bodies.”

His beard was trimmed down to a “French beard” and a mysterious bespectacled man was brought in to get a good look at him.

Read | 2005 Delhi serial blasts: What happened that day

The Special Cell has denied these allegations.

“The false case against Shah rested on two things – concealment and fabrication,” said Rebecca John, Shah’s lawyer, “Evidence that he was in class was suppressed, and a fake witness was planted.”

In 2005, Danbir Sharma, an eyewitness, gave the Delhi Police a description of the man who planted the bus bomb: 5’6” tall, wheatish complexion, bare-headed with little hair, no beard, white pants, and a “coca-cola coloured shirt.” The police created a sketch on the basis of this description.

Once the case was transferred to the Special Cell, they found an eyewitness of their own – Rajeev Sinha, the very same bespectacled man Shah had spotted in the police camp when he was arrested. So in a line-up of suspects, Sinha picked Shah out.

Sinha had offered a different description of the suspect: French cut beard, prominent nose, dark blue-black pants, and a white striped shirt. The Cell prepared new suspect portraits based on Sinha’s description, which coincidentally, looked like Rafiq Shah.

What happened to the original portraits?

“The portrait of the suspect prepared at the instance of PW19 [Danbir Sharma] has not seen the light of day,” Judge Singh wrote in his judgment, “There is no explanation as to where the document has gone.”

Sloppy investigation

The Special Cell was set up in 1985 to track Khalistani militants in Delhi. In the 2000s, the unit claimed to have “solved” a number of high-profile terror cases.

Yet the Cell also acquired a reputation for staged killings and sloppy police work. In 2013, Special Cell officers said they had busted a terror module and recovered an AK-56 rifle from a hotel in Old Delhi.

When the NIA triangulated call-details, cellphone tower dumps, and CCTV footage, they found a man called Sabir Pathan who listed his address as “Barrack No.3, Special Cell, Lodhi Road, Delhi Police” – according to an NIA internal document.


DCP Special Cell Sanjeev Yadav, who also investigated Shah’s case, admitted to the NIA that Pathan was his informant. The Special Cell, the NIA concluded, had fabricated the case.

“Unfortunately policemen tasked with national security have the same thanedar mentality,” said V. Balachandran, former Special Secretary, Research and Analysis Wing. The former NIA official was more scathing, “The Special Cell has no investigative capacities,” he said, “Things are only getting worse.”

In Rafiq Shah’s case, the Cell they took 10 years to frame charges and call 187 witnesses to the stand. But not one of these witnesses was from KU to either corroborate or contradict Shah’s alibi.

In November 2015, the defence finally got its chance.

“Twelve years ago, Rafiq was in one of my classes at the KU,” said Dr. Sheikh Jameil Ali, who flew down from Srinagar with his attendance registers from 2005 to prove Rafiq could not have been in Delhi on that fateful day.

In February 2017, Shah’s 12-year ordeal came to a close. But the bright-eyed 22 year old from Dr. Ali’s class was gone. In his place was a withdrawn, soft-spoken man of 34.

Kashmiri Muslims have suffered 27 years of military rule, all kinds of atrocities by India’s security forces.

The bitter cold in the Kashmir Valley cuts through the bones, but yet it fails to chill the public’s spirit. Right through the winter, when hundreds of Indian security forces come to a locality to kill less than a handful of militants taking shelter in a house, the local population come out in support of the militants to prevent the security forces from conducting their operations, at times even managing to help the militants escape. For the security forces, of course, the local population supporting the militants are “anti-national” and they have no qualms in dealing severely with the civilians.

The fact is that many in the local population readily risk their very lives to save the militants. The killing of every militant—and they are all Kashmiris, mostly from East Kashmir, administered by India, with a few from West Kashmir, administered by Pakistan—is deeply resented. Each “encounter” killing of a militant or militants, and especially when civilians are killed, sparks public protests, despite the bitter cold outside. And when such protests gain momentum, the security forces fire into the crowds, triggering a wave of further protests.

The Kashmiri people have now faced what is akin to military rule for 27 years; practically the whole area is claimed to have ­remained “disturbed,” with the armed forces enjoying immunity from prosecution for harm done to civilians, whether of rape, torture, disappearance, or killing. According to a statement dated 10 January 2017 of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons (APDP), in the ongoing uprising from 8 July last year, more than a hundred civilians have so far been killed. More than one thousand civilians have either been blinded or have sustained serious eye injuries as a result of the firing of pellets by the security forces. There have been mass arrests and detentions under the draconian Public Safety Act, 1978. Official government figures put the number of arrests under different criminal charges at around 8,000. Prolonged curfews, media and internet blackouts, suspension of the fundamental rights to freedom of speech and ­expres­sion and of peaceful assembly, have been the order of the day.

Indeed, one can sense the agony of the parents and other loved ones of the disappeared persons. For the period from 1989 onwards, the APDP has estimated that 8,000 to 10,000 Kashmiris—the earlier Omar Abdullah-headed Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) ­government had admitted to a figure of 3,744 in the J&K legislative assembly—were subjected to enforced disappearance and subsequently killed in fake encounters. But the Indian state and the establishment have been in a state of denial of the enforced disappearances and subsequent killings, blaming the very victims of the violence for the violence. On the 10th of every month, the APDP stages silent sit-in protests against the enforced disappearances in J&K, and has been bringing out a memory calendar. It has taken on the “responsibility of not allowing the memories of the sufferings of (the) families (of the disappeared persons) to pass into oblivion.” Indeed, the callousness of successive state governments in J&K is also evident in the fact that the state ­assembly is yet to pass a law on protection from enforced dis­appearances. Successive central governments have also been utterly insensitive in not ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Basically for 27 years, India has been using military force against the people of the Kashmir Valley many of whom do not want to be part of India. New Delhi justifies all of this in the name of “territorial integrity” and “secularism.” It blames Pakistan for what is happening in the Kashmir Valley—all the mass protests and the militancy are supposed to be “Pakistan-sponsored.” Yet, the nationalism of the present union government is not even all-Indian; it is a communal Hindutvavadi nationalism representing a section of the Indian population. The Hindutvavadi nationalists in power currently have no qualms in forcing their rule on the Kashmiri Muslims in the name of secularism. Needless to say, the Congress version of nationalism was no less in this respect. Not that Pakistani nationalism is any better. Now the Hindutvavadi nationalists, clearly not out of any real solidarity, have claimed that they support the Balochi national liberation movement in Pakistan; the Pakistani nationalists, on their part, claim that they are for Kashmiri azaadi from India, even as they have made of Azad Kashmir a virtual colony. But given New Delhi’s use of military force in the Kashmir Valley over the last 27 years, Kashmiri azaadi is, indeed, among other things, principally a cry from the heart of the Kashmiri people for freedom from Indian oppression.

– See more at:

‘They dragged me by my hair, beat me with their baton, then shot me with a pellet gun,’ says 14-year-old Ifra.

There are some things about October 31, 2016, that Ifra Shakour says she will never forget. And then there are the hours that she was unconscious.

She remembers hunching over school books, cramming for her eighth-grade exams. She recalls hearing bursts of tear gas shells coming from the local market. And she definitely remembers that feeling of dread when she realised that her little brother wasn’t home.

They caught me by my hair and dragged me. And then they beat me with their baton on my arm. But still they weren’t satisfied so they shot me with a pellet gun

Ifra Shakour

“I asked my mother what was happening outside,” the 14-year-old told Al Jazeera in this 101 East documentary

“I didn’t know what was going on. I closed my books and went out.”

Ifra only made it to her front gate. The last thing she saw were two uniformed policemen running towards her.

“When I saw them, I got scared. That’s why I ran,” she told Al Jazeera.

“They caught me by my hair and dragged me. And then they beat me with their baton on my arm. But still they weren’t satisfied so they shot me with a pellet gun.”

This pump action shotgun has been the weapon of choice for security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir for years. It’s classified as “non-lethal”, used to maim rather than kill its victims.

Each cartridge carries lead pellets the size and shape of mustard seeds. With the pull of a trigger, the gun sprays hundreds of these tiny balls indiscriminately into the air.

Ifra said the policemen shot her at point-blank range.

“After I was hit I couldn’t see anything. Blood was coming out of my eyes,” she said.

“All I could think about was seeing again so I can study, go out with friends, teachers, my family and neighbours. I used to pray to God to make me see again so I can be a doctor.”

OPINION: Kashmir and the myth of indivisible India

Protests triggered by the death of Burhan Wani

The shooting of Ifra came during the worst protests Indian-administered Kashmir has seen in six years. They were triggered by the killing of Burhan Wani, a young rebel commander who had joined an underground network of separatist guerillas.

Wani was an icon and a social media star with thousands of online followers. His death sent shockwaves through India’s only Muslim-majority state. Angry protesters flooded the streets, throwing rocks at security forces and demanding independence.

READ MORE: Kashmiris decry world’s silence over killings

The subsequent crackdown by the government was swift and violent. Hospitals struggled to cope with the dead and injured. Some had been severely beaten, others suffered pellet wounds.

Ophthalmologists in Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh Hospital said they operated day and night, treating at least 1,000 patients with pellets lodged in their eyes.

Some, like Ifra, were completely blind.

“She was screaming,” said her aunt, Rubeena Banu. “There was blood coming out of her eyes, her ears, her nose. I was so stressed. I couldn’t look at her. I thought she would die.”

Ifra had three pellets in her right eye and two in her left.

“She had gone out to bring her brother home because there was firing and fighting going on,” Banu told Al Jazeera. “What did she do wrong? She didn’t have a rock or a gun in her hand. She had just gone to get her brother.”

During protests the hospitals struggled to cope with the dead and injured [Karyshma Vias/Al Jazeera] 

‘No rule of law here’

The Indian government has resisted increasing pressure to ban the use of pellet gunsagainst protesters and civilians.

“Banning it would take us straight to using bullets, so it’s the lesser evil,” said Naeem Akhtar, a senior minister in the state government.

Every time [there is a protest] the reaction is brute force. Kill the Kashmiris, maim them, blind them

Umar Farooq, separatist leader

“Use of disproportionate force is a problem, crowd control is a problem,” he admitted. “We want to create an atmosphere where we should not use it. It should be the last resort because it’s not for human beings.”

But activists and political leaders have accused the government of being disingenuous. For decades, human rights lawyers have been recording a catalogue of complaints against security forces, including cases of extrajudicial killings, torture in custody and rape. They believe abuses in Kashmir are systemic.

“There is absolutely no democracy here, there is no rule of law here, there is no accountability here,” said Umar Farooq, a separatist leader and the religious head of Kashmiri Muslims.

“Every time [there is a protest] the reaction is brute force. Kill the Kashmiris, maim them, blind them.”

Akhtar, the government minister, said the state takes these allegations seriously and is committed to protecting civilians in this 30-year conflict.

“The government is looking into specific cases of it and wherever we find that there has actually been an established case of disproportionate use of force, we will certainly take action,” he told Al Jazeera.

“They will be investigated, compensated.”

But when pressed about when these investigations will take place, he said: “I can’t put a time frame on that … I don’t know.”

IN PICTURES: Pellet guns cause severe eye injuries in Kashmir

Al Jazeera also requested interviews with the police, the military and the federal government, but none agreed to be interviewed.

Ifra’s family does not hold any hope that her case will be investigated. They haven’t lodged a complaint with the police.

“If we complain, who knows? Maybe they’ll pick up my little nephew and put him in jail,” said Ifra’s aunt, Rubeena. “That’s why we’re scared and we won’t complain.

“Today this happened to my niece. Another day it will happen to someone else, and someone else the day after that. That’s why we say we want an independent Kashmir.”

Ifra has had three surgeries to restore her vision, but her sight is still limited. Her relatives say she has stopped studying and barely eats. She spends most of her days sitting alone in the courtyard outside her home.

“My friend used to come to see me every morning but now she doesn’t come,” she said. “I don’t know what has happened. She’s busy studying and going to school. She’ll graduate but what will I do?”

Source: Al Jazeera News

Kashmir: Born To Fight

Posted: February 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

Is India’s crackdown on Kashmiri protesters creating new generation of young fighters?

The most militarised zone in the world isn’t in Iraq or Syria. It’s in Indian-administered Kashmir, a region racked by a separatist insurgency for almost 30 years.

More than 600,000 soldiers are stationed here, accused by activists of decades of murder, torture, rape and other abuses. But Kashmir may have reached its tipping point. The government’s violent crackdown on unarmed protesters has fuelled unrest in recent months.

Separatist leaders are now warning that the government’s iron-fisted rule is radicalising Kashmir’s young men. 101 East asks: Is India’s hardline policy in Kashmir creating a new generation of fighters?

Join the conversation  @AJ 101East

Source: Al Jazeera News


Two days after the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani in an encounter on July 8 last year, Suhail Gul Mir, 18, found himself caught between protesters and security forces while returning home from tuition classes in south Kashmir.

His left eye was blinded after pellets pierced through it and a cycle of surgeries and check-ups started at Srinagar’s SMHS hospital.

Undeterred by the vision he lost in one eye and the excruciating pain, Suhail — a resident of Rohmoo village in strife-torn Pulwama district — appeared for his Class 12 final exams in November and fared well.

He scored 75% marks in the arts stream.

“Studying after four operations was not easy. Every time I tried focusing on the page, my eyes and head would start aching. But I kept going,” said an exuberant Suhail.

“My marks would have been higher had I not been injured,” he said, adding that he wants to be a teacher.

His brother Sajad Ahmed Mir said one pellet was still lodged in the posterior of Suhail’s eye. “We want to go to Amritsar for treatment but there is financial constraint. Our father is a tailor and we do not have the money.”

The results of the Class 12 examinations of the state education board held in Kashmir in November were declared on Sunday and 75% students passed the exams.

Hospital data shows that eyes of more than 1,000 people were pierced by pellets in last year’s unrest, leading to various degrees of blindness.

But Suhail is not the only pellet victim to achieve such a feat in the exams.

Tabish Rafiq Bhat, 16, a resident of Pampore town, was hit by pellets on July 9 last year.

According to his family, Tabish was not a part of stone-pelting mob but was caught in the chaos while passing through the area.

Six pellets perforated his left eye and doctors said he would not be able to see again.

Tabish took his Class 10 board exams and scored a cumulative average grade point (CAGP) of 7.

“I am happy. My family and friends are happy. I thank Allah that I was able to take the exams despite my injury,” Tabish said.

He has chosen the arts stream and will attend a government higher secondary school in Pampore.

For Tabish too, preparing for exams was not easy. His right eye would start watering after reading or writing for some time, accompanied by a headache.

“The pain is still there and no vision has returned to the damaged eye,” said Tabish.

Suhaib Nazir, 16, lost his right eye to pellets when forces fired the weapon to quell a protest demonstration near his home in Uzrampathri near Pulwama.

In his Class 10 exams, he scored a CAGP of 7.2.

“I could not study much. Even the doctors had asked me not to study much,” said Suhaib.

His brother, Suhail Parray, said after undergoing three surgeries, Suhaib had a fourth scheduled.

“But my brother said at that point that he would undergo the surgery after appearing for his exams. Such was his dedication and we are extremely happy for him,” Parray said.

“After the injury, we had to travel through the curfew to Srinagar every four days and then after a few weeks, every 20 days. Suhaib was writhing in pain. So studying was out of the question for him for a long time,” he said.

Despite his suffering, Suhaib will focus all his energy on becoming a doctor.

“The pain continues, obviously. But I want to become a doctor and so will take the science stream with biology. I have already joined medical entrance coaching in Srinagar,” he said.

Courtesy- Hindustan Times

Faced with shrinking revenues, newspapers are going digital and journalists are striking out on their own with digital media start ups


SRINAGAR: Struggling to survive in the conflict-ridden Kashmir Valley due to financial crises, the legacy media is rapidly stepping into the world of digitisation. Not only are media organisations going digital but journalists who are in the middle of their career and fear job losses are turning to digital media entrepreneurship.

While media organisations see the new age media (digital) as the only option to cut the cost of their news operations and earn money through alternative means, journalists see digital entrepreneurship as the only avenue for creating employment for themselves and others.

Strife-hit newspapers are gradually diverting a major chunk of their resources to digitisation to reduce their print costs. Kashmir Observer, an English daily facing an acute financial crisis, has decided to go digital. Editor Sajad Hyder said the revenue from the market, especially because of the present unrest, is virtually zero. They are diverting their resources for digitisation to generate badly needed revenue from the online virtual market.


“Strife-hit newspapers are gradually diverting a major chunk of their resources to digitisation to reduce their print costs.”


The newspapers find it hard to pay the salaries of their staff given the turbulent situation in the Valley – first in 2008, then in 2010 and now.  It is obvious that when there is no business in the market, there is nothing that needs publicising with business owners or with the government.

“By going digital, the cost of the print run is reduced. This is being done to use the untapped market, both nationally and internationally, that craves visual media from Kashmir,” said Hyder.

The leading English daily, Greater Kashmir, published by GK Communications, posted on its just-created YouTube channel that, “GK Communications Pvt. Ltd. is pleased to announce GKTV, the Audio Visual Digital Platform that will cater to our fast growing new digital audience.”

Another daily, Rising Kashmir, has also started its multimedia segment, followed by Kashmir Monitor, but they are yet to decide on the complete digitisation of their news operations. However, like many others, they have cut down heavily on their print runs.

Amid this transition, journalists are turning into new age media entrepreneurs, adding momentum to changes that are reshaping an industry known for dismal levels of professionalism, monopolies, and financial crunches. Young journalists are looking for innovative developments in journalism amid the technology boom to secure their future.

Take Tariq Bhat, a local journalist with a degree in mass communications. Bhat has worked with many news organisations such as Munsif TV, 5 Darya News, and 9TV. He says that losing jobs and looking for others actually created the energy in him to think of his own start up.

In 2014, Bhat started the state’s first online, multi-lingual radio app – City FM JK – with meagre resources and just  six colleagues, to transmit folk programmes, entertainment, music, news and information.

The radio app, which is available on the Google Play store, has become very popular among internet users. With the catch-line Panun Radio, Panun Style (Our Radio, Our style), the mobile radio has won Bhat accolades and the spotlight in the national and international media. So far, it has been downloaded over 79,000 times.

“Journalists in Kashmir suffer economically. The industry is drying up. The new generation has to turn to entrepreneurship rather than searching for a job. I took a Rs five  lakh loan from  J&K Bank and 15 lakh from a private financer to start this project,” said Bhat.


“This month, Bhat launched the Asia News Network (ANN), the first ever mobile TV station in J&K, and became the talk of town.”


Initially, people laughed at his idea of online radio. “Now I have over one lakh daily listeners including international listeners and the diaspora. I am an employer now,” he adds.

This month, Bhat launched the Asia News Network (ANN), the first ever mobile TV station in J&K, and became the talk of town. The BBC, Zee News, NDTV and Times Now portrayed Bhat as an inspirational Kashmiri youth.

ANN is currently being manned by a small team of eight persons but has already made a name for itself with its multi-lingual programmes and songs, news, current affairs and entertainment. “There is no support from the government for innovative start-ups. Even their advertisement policy isn’t helpful in any way to the new age media start-ups. If it had been, the industry would have witnessed many more start-ups”, said Bhat.

On revenue possibilities, he pointed out that he has a small team on nominal salaries. ‘The thing is we don’t have daily huge expenses in digital news, like we have in print. It is a one-time investment. Whatever we earn from online advertisement or sponsorships is at least managing us. You don’t have to live up with fears of crises and expenditures. Instead, we have attracting more and more international market and people to expect some share in global market. Be it advertisement, app hitting or donations.”

The list does not end here. Irfan Ahmad, a mass communication post-graduate who has reported for national and local media organisations for seven years, is working on his ‘digital media and news podcast’ start-up titled Kashmir Patriot and KP TV.

Pradeep Kumar, the Delhi-based programming head of Kashmir Patriot says that the idea developed when Ahmad was looking for a job after the channel he worked for shut down. “Though he had this idea earlier, he was quite hesitant in turning to entrepreneurship, that too in the uncertain Valley. Fortunately he got an international fellowship on the same subject in Europe and on return he decided to give it a try,” Kumar said.

The start-up is seeking finance from the J&K Entrepreneurship Development Institute as the first of its kind digital news platform in the state, according to Kumar. “We will be introducing new tools of mobile journalism. The start-up will be formally launched soon.  The test run is already on. Besides news, views, it would be featuring debates, chats and live feeds,” he said.

For revenue Kashmir Patriot will be focusing on income from YouTube channel by featuring stories for international audiences. ‘The revenue from Google ad sense and website hits may be insufficient initially, but after some time we are hoping with the growing followers and subscribers on social networking, it may rise.  After all, there is no print cost involved in it, which is the most difficult thing to manage in the local market,” said Kumar.

Whatever the platform gets as revenue from the local market and the government will be in addition. “You get something from everywhere on a global platform. Sustaining with a daily newspaper publication or journals in crises-hit market is difficult, but a widening reach on the global market may fetch some more sums,” he said.

Umar Nisar, another journalist with sound information technology skills, developed his own FM station, Pannun FM International, in 2015. He believes the crisis in Kashmir stymies the talent. “No support, besides meagre revenue resources, kills the media industry,’said Nisar. He is currently working on upgrading his FM radio to a Digital Media & Broadcasting Network.

A group of three other journalists, Sameer Showkin, Mir Farhat, and Zahid Maqbool, recently founded a news portal, News Despatch, a family-run news organisation. Showkin’s first sentence in his bio, uploaded on his portal, speaks volumes about what he went through before launching the portal. “Thanks to all those who said ‘no’ to me, it is because of them I did it myself”.

Braving the odds, these start-ups and trendsetters deserve applause. The making of a new media industry in the Kashmir Valley amid all the troubles is something to celebrate.


Irfan Quraishi is a Kashmir-based broadcast & multimedia journalist. He has previously worked for Day & Night News and Kashmir Times. He tweets @ irfanquraishi85.

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